Regular readers of Bluegrass Today will have surely noted my occasional musings on how few really outstanding new recordings come across my desk, as a percentage of total new projects. It has also been noted how often these exceptional albums are bypassed by awards nominations, the music media and even radio programmers in favor of lesser releases from more popular artists.
The Sideman Steps Out from Shannon Slaughter is one that I hope will get the attention it deserves. It doesn’t seek to bash established barriers or rewrite any rules. It merely sets out to present serious, soulful, modern bluegrass in a professional setting. And like any artistic endeavor, it deserves to be judged on how well it achieves its own goals.
I’ve known Shannon since he first moved to southwestern Virginia from his native north Florida in the early 1990s, and if you follow the jumps and starts of bluegrass band personnel changes, you may know his name as well. He’s worked for several of the top acts based in this part of the world, Lost and Found, Lonesome River Band, and Lou Reid & Carolina among them. Shannon also played with Larry Stephenson, and Nashville songstress Melanie Cannon, as well as his own group, County Clare.
Slaughter is a strong rhythm/lead guitarist in the Tim Stafford mold, a muscular lead vocalist and – perhaps most importantly as far as this album is concerned – an original songwriting voice.
I first noticed his writing chops with Lonesome Wind, which served as the opening track of Knee Deep In Bluegrass, a 2000 Rebel release with a superstar lineup. Since them, Shannon has honed and refined his craft, putting 8 that he wrote or co-wrote front and center on The Sideman Steps Out.
He assembled a very strong group of sidemen of his own, primarily from musicians with whom he performs regularly. Several tracks were cut with members of County Clare: Joey Cox on banjo, Ronald Inscore on mandolin and Heather Slaughter on bass. Bandmates from his primary gig, Lou Reid & Carolina make several appearances, including Lou on mandolin and vocal, and Trevor Watson on banjo. Ron Stewart guests on fiddle throughout, and Rob Ickes drops in on reso guitar for one track.
All of the songs are strong, both Shannon’s and contributions from other noted writers like Tim Stafford, Craig Market, David Coffey and Darrel Mosely.
Perhaps the most appealing songs are the ones that Shannon and Heather sing together, including You’re My Music which they also co-wrote.
You’re My Music:
It’s a lovely song, but don’t worry music fans, there’s plenty of gritty, grassy tunes on the record as well. My favorite is probably the opening track, which Shannon wrote about a man who takes care of himself.
The Working Man:
The Sideman Steps Out can be obtained from the County Clare web site, where you can hear audio samples from all 14 tracks, and either order a CD or purchase digital downloads.